While Mad Men stopped airing in 2015, its binge-able qualities make it a recurring Netflix favorite. The show left its mark on our culture, influencing everything from fashion to reading. A huge fan of all things 1960s, I thought I would craft a list of books to help you channel your inner Peggy Olson, Joan Holloway and Betty Draper. This is what she reads if she loves Mad Men.
Park Avenue Summer by Renee Rosen
I’ve been reading about Helen Gurley Brown (former editor of Cosmopolitan) for years – her controversial opinions make her a divisive and revolutionary figure in history. In this new piece of historical fiction, we meet Alice, a budding photographer in the 1960s, who moves to New York City to realize her late mother’s dream of living in the Big Apple. She ends up working for HGB during a tumultuous time when Cosmopolitan is on the Hearst chopping block. Along the way, Alice learns more about her own sexuality and who she wants to be as a working woman during a time of such change for single women.
(Bonus points if you pick up HGB’s book, Sex and the Single Girl, as a companion read.)
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
This is the book that first got me hooked on historical fiction, and helped me get through a really tough friend breakup. Benjamin writes about the chaotic friendship between Babe Paley and Truman Capote in 1960s New York, culminating in the destruction of the friendship after Capote’s infamous article is published in Esquire magazine, La Côte Basque, 1965. The perfect book for learning about midcentury New York City high society, and the gossip, food and money that comes with it.
The Group by Mary McCarthy
In addition to her affinity for magazines of her time, Betty Draper is seen reading a few books on the show. After seeing her read The Group in the bathtub, I picked up a copy and started reading. It’s not a short read, but I found myself fully engrossed in the lives of the women depicted, and how ahead of its time the book is – dealing with issues of birth control, intimate partner violence and even debates about breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding. Even more interesting? It was published in 1963, but the book takes place in 1933. Talk about #throwback!
Dressing for the Dark by Kate Young
The beautiful costuming and throwback fashions are undoubtedly one of the reasons why Mad Men was, and is, so successful. One facet in particular always gets my attention – do you ever notice on Mad Men how the women are always dressing up for their evening dates and gatherings? Evening wear carried significantly more weight (both literally and figuratively) during the ’60s. Gowns, people. Just to go to dinner! As I rewatch the show, I am entranced by the gorgeous gowns and dresses worn by the female leads. This book is a celebration of just that and makes for lovely eye candy and sartorial inspiration.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Published in 1961, Revolutionary Road is a powerful portal into how the restrictive gender roles of the 1950s had destructive consequences, not just for women, but for the institution of marriage. Frank and April are a young married couple living in the Connecticut suburbs in the 1950s. April has an idea that brings both of them hope of moving on from a tedious existence, only for Frank to turn against her. The book exposes the deep darkness hidden behind the American Dream.
Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
Written by our June Guest Editor(!), Mrs. Everything showcases the story of two sisters from Detroit, Jo and Bethie, who navigate many of the same societal issues addressed in Mad Men. The book moves from the 1950s to the present day, and it’s one of the top novels I’m most excited to read this summer.
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
When we get glimpses of life in Ossining, New York, where the Drapers live, it’s hard not to pity the housewives who feel trapped in the expectations to “perform” as they’ve been told they should. The Stepford Wives is a short read that uses the horror genre to expose these trapped feelings, and the inability to escape societal expectations. I also recommend seeing the original 1975 film… after you read the book, of course!
The After Party by Anton DiSclafani
The Mad Men era’s social norms didn’t just affect New York City. DiSclafani’s novel focuses on the destructive power of codependent female friendships, set against the backdrop of Houston-based megawealth in the 1950s. The descriptions are so vivid, I could practically feel the spines of the girdles digging into my own skin. A perfect book club or beach read!
What other books remind you of Mad Men? Tweet us and let us know @shereadsdotcom.
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